Deuteronomy 6 (The Shema) and Mission - Missional Discussion of the Day

One of the major passages on spiritual formation, particularly within families, that is often pointed to is the "Shema":

4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.[a] 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:1-8).

 

This is, of course, a wonderful passage; however, this is a passage that, like so many others, is usually stripped entirely of its context. What is Deuteronomy about, anyway? Deuteronomy is a name which means "the second giving of the law." It is a book about God starting over with Israel. God had led the people out of Israel through Moses. They were to enter into the promised land, fulfilling God's plan for them. However, they rebelled against God, causing Moses to cast down the Ten Commandments. Then, when Caleb and Joshua went with the spies to spy out the land of Canaan, they brought back a bad report, failing to trust that God would help them conquer the land. 

 

Deuteronomy is about God starting over with Joshua and a new generation of Israel, giving them the law again and a mission--to enter into the promised land and conquer it, multiplying and fulfilling the promise that God made to Abraham. It is in this context that Deuteronomy 6 is issued. They are to love God and keep his commandments--so that they can fulfill God's mission and dreams for them. Note the passages below, and you will see that this book is all about fulfilling this mission:

 

8 See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land the LORD swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them.” (1:8).

 

8 You are not to do as we do here today, everyone doing as they see fit, 9 since you have not yet reached the resting place and the inheritance the LORD your God is giving you. 10 But you will cross the Jordan and settle in the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, and he will give you rest from all your enemies around you so that you will live in safety (12:8-10).

 

10 The LORD your God has increased your numbers so that today you are as numerous as the stars in the sky. 11 May the LORD, the God of your ancestors, increase you a thousand times and bless you as he has promised! (1:10-11).

 

21 See, the LORD your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. . . 26 But you were unwilling to go up; you rebelled against the command of the LORD your God.” (1:21, 26).

 

28 But commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land that you will see" (3:28).

 

1 Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the LORD, the God of your ancestors, is giving you (4:1).

 

5 See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. 6 Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” 7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? 9 Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. 10 Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” (4:5-10).

 

44 This is the law Moses set before the Israelites. 45 These are the stipulations, decrees and laws Moses gave them when they came  and were in the valley near Beth Peor east of the Jordan, in the land of Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon and was defeated by Moses and the Israelites as they came out of Egypt. 47 They took possession of his land and the land of Og king of Bashan, the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan. 48 This land extended from Aroer on the rim of the Arnon Gorge to Mount Sirion[b] (that is, Hermon), 49 and included all the Arabah east of the Jordan, as far as the Dead Sea,[c] below the slopes of Pisgah (4:44-48).46out of Egypt 

 

Deut 5 - Ten Commandments

 

1 These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life3 Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatlyin a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, promised you.

 4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.[a] 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

 10 When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery (6:1-12).

 

20 In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the LORD our God has commanded you?” 21. tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand." (6:20-21).

 

1 Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the LORD promised on oath to your ancestors (8:1).

 

12 And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? (10:12-13).

 

18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. 20 Fear the LORD your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. 21 He is the one you praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. 22 Your ancestors who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky. (10:18-22).

 

8 Observe therefore all the commands I am giving you today, so that you may have the strength to go in and take over the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 9 and so that you may live long in the land the LORD swore to your ancestors to give to them and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey (11:8-9).

 

13 So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul— 14 then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and olive oil. 15 I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied (11:13-15).

 

29 The LORD your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess. But when you have driven them out and settled in their land, 30 and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.” 31 You must not worship the LORD your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods (12:29-31).

 

What does this show? It shows that even that which we view as being spiritual formation - love of God - fulfills a purpose outside of ourselves. For Israel, this love of God would help them fulfill God's mission of conquering and possessing the Promised Land and God's promise to Abraham that he would make Israel into a mighty nature and bless her. 

 

Similarly, today, when we talk about spiritual formation and love of God, we should realize that this will enable us to fulfill the mission that God has for us - to seek the lost, serve the community, and share the good news. And when we are teaching our children love of God, in our families or the larger Christian community, we should teach them--and engage them in--the mission that we have been given. Even our love for one another serves a larger purpose of pointing outsiders towards God, just as Israel's keeping of God's commands was to serve as a light to the nations. We teach our children about all of this as we walk alongside the road, as we lie down and as we get up. 

 

How does looking at the Shema (Deut. 6) in the larger context of Deuteronomy (and the Pentateuch) shape your understanding of this passage? What do you see is the relationship between love of God, spiritual formation, and mission?

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Comment by James Nored on February 23, 2011 at 1:17pm
Here is a fascinating discussion of the Shema, repetition, Jewish learning styles.

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